Friday, March 26, 2010

The rock craze

The rock craze was started, innocently enough, by 10-year-old Nat.  

This week, he found a handful of interesting small rocks and brought them inside for cleaning and examination. He asked if it was possible to find diamonds or gold in our yard. Although I responded with a distracted, "quite doubtful," he proceeded with some optimism to see if he had managed to find at least some semi-precious stones in the mud. After discovering that the kitchen sink was not my first choice for rock bathing, he went outside into the sunshine on the deck with a bucket of water and started cleaning. This activity caught the attention of three younger brothers who had been outside playing together. It's been a long time since any event related to water has been seen outside the bathtub. With an innate attraction to messes of any kind, Ben, Sam, and Jon (aged 7, 5, and 3) were soon at work collecting rocks of their own and crowding around the bucket–excited to see that clean, wet rocks do indeed look different than mud-covered rocks and plain, dry rocks.  

Nat asked me for help in figuring out if some of his small rocks were granite, so I found a website with a Rock Identification Key. There was also a good Introduction-to-Rocks article on this site, which I found quite interesting. When I first showed it to him, he was dismayed. "I don't want to read all that!" He just wanted some good pictures for comparison with what he was holding in his hand. Turns out that, yes, he had several little pieces of granite. By this time, 12-year-old Lydia and nearly-9-year-old Essie had gotten roped into the rock craze as well. They were interested in reading the articles and seeing how the charts could zero in on the type of rock so easily. Our own First Field Guide for Rocks was suddenly in high demand. Several trips to the big rock pile next to the farm field were planned and executed.

Nat moved on to preparing a box for his collection, marking off a grid inside on a paper towel cushion and grouping them by type. He got out the hot glue gun to hold them in place. He has a very neat and tidy collection of uniformly sized specimens. Today he figured out a way to display more rocks on the inside lid of his box and said it would be nice if we could look for rocks on the shore of Lake Superior sometime.

Ben and Sam wanted boxes, too, and fortunately for them, getting rid of old boxes is not my strong point.

Ben went for a big box with tiny rocks inside (he made a grid on paper towels, too, but wasn't allowed near the hot glue gun).

Sam prepared a medium box with medium rocks inside (no glue gun for him either, he settled for tape inside and decorated his box with crayons).

Jon decided on his own that the kindling box would be a terrific spot for his display. He dumped my kindling sticks outside in the yard and replaced them with three large rocks.

Essie had been sitting quietly by herself while planning her box.  Suddenly she went into action. She managed to find a sturdy box with an attached, hinged lid.  She bent over the table cutting and gluing little rings made out of strips of cereal boxes – one inch tall, and one to two inches in diameter.  She hot-glued these rings upright on the bottom of her box so that from the top there were circular compartments for each individual rock.  This had the advantage of holding the rocks in place, but the rocks could still be picked up - unlike her siblings who chose either to glue the rocks in place, or to leave them free to roll around - needing to be set up over and over again.

Lydia concentrated on scientific collection methods. She found a canvas bag and filled it with things to make a good record of what she found. Ruler, notebook, Ziplock bag, pens and water bottle included. She came back from the rock pile with some beautiful rocks, which she had smashed open, sketched, and labeled. She had a pretty good idea of what types of rocks she had in her collection because she had learned a lot by reading on-line: granite, quartz, slate, basalt, and something really hard to smash that had streaks of rusted iron in it. Another with flecks that looked like gold. 

By this time everyone was pretty impressed that there was so much to learn about the rocks just in our own neck of the woods, let alone all the rocks in the world. We wished we had a specific field guide for Minnesota rocks. Nat asked if there were a thousand types of rocks in the world. Making a wild guess based on the earth being a pretty big place, basically made of rocks, I quickly answered, "Oh, yes, I'm sure . . . "  followed quickly by my realizing that there aren't nearly that many elements on the periodic element chart; followed quickly by my realizing that rocks are of course made of more than one element creating various compounds under various conditions;  followed up by my realizing that I know next to nothing about rocks and that in reality I didn't know if there were fifty or ten-thousand types of rocks. Now we know that there are more than 700 varieties of igneous rocks, not to mention sedimentary rocks and metamorphic rocks.  One website said that over 3500 distinct minerals have been described worldwide.

We are suddenly on a quest to really see rocks–similar to my personal quest to really see trees–which leads to my ever increasing wonder that I have never thought much about any of these things before, even while "enjoying Nature."  It's like I've been seeing it without glasses on. There is so much more to see than I have been seeing.  

But the main thing I loved seeing this week is the way that collecting, displaying, and learning about rocks reveals such unique and interesting things about each child's personality, interests, learning-style and approach to life.  They each have their own way of finding rocks, deciding which rocks are good for collecting, displaying their rocks and sharing what they have found with others.  Ben even got to take his to church for his Wednesday night class to fulfill a requirement for a Nature Collection, which helps the kids see how God reveals His glory through His creation.  His teachers and friends Ooh'd and Ahhh'd over his Big-Box of nicely displayed Very-Small-Rocks and he got to add a new pin to his ribbon. Nat found himself wishing they still did Show-and-Tell in Fourth Grade. He took his box along in the van, just in case he got a chance to show one of his friends.  Lydia followed me around with her carefully selected and washed collection until I had the time to really sit and look at each one and comment on both the rock and her journal entries related to each one. And everyone wanted to show Dad everything.

The rock craze turned out to be a wonderful surprise.

Lord, once again I plead for new eyes to see . . . trees, rocks, my own children, and everything you have to show me.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Joyful hope of Spring

Fragrant breezes swirl old leaves in corners of the yard.

Tiny buds give certain hope of bursting life inside.

Brown grass dancing encores
     as last year’s life seeps out
          to mix with earth and new scents
               on the wind.

Mud itself a reassuring sign.

Bright, warm sun to mix it all
     in joyful hope of Spring.


* * *

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hidden in plain sight.

Though it happens frequently, I'm always surprised when I realize I haven't been seeing something that is right before my eyes.

A few weeks ago, before the rain started, when the snow was deep and crisp and even...I decided to head outside for a walk and drag the big rolling trash can back from the end of the long driveway by hand.  The trash can sits just at the corner where I first looked closely at the January trees, so I thought I'd go back and stand right in the same spot and look at them again before they begin to put on their emerald garments for the new season.  While I was looking up at them, I was thinking that for five years I have been trying to learn how to identify trees by looking at their leaves with very little success, and now, in the leafless Wintertime I have discovered there are a lot of distinct features of each type of tree that have nothing to do with the leaves.  This has been helpful to me in finally making some small headway in really being able to see the trees and recognize them. In particular, I have become an expert at spotting the wild elm trees that all died during one season three or four years ago.  The reason I am interested in these is that they are standing, dry, easy to harvest, ready-to-burn firewood for our fireplace.  These trees have become important to me in a way that no other trees have been important.  I can now spot these medium-sized trees everywhere and am amazed that we weren't all full of grief at their demise, which at the time we barely noticed.

All Winter as I have taken walks, I have been looking at the same stretch of woods along the same driveway taking notice of the same dead firewood trees, which we have slowly been harvesting for firewood.  On this day, I was wondering if I could also tell what the other trees were, by this time sure I had found all the firewood trees in the woods along that well-walked driveway.   I decided to really look at all the oaks along there to try to see what is oakish about an oak.  And halfway back, I looked up at the branches way up at the tips and stopped stunned.  Right in the middle of the silhouette of branches against the sky - way up high, not too far into the woods, I saw the tell tale signs of an old dead tree.  Small finger branches missing, just the medium and larger branches pointing up like spears to the sky.  It was a dead oak, a big dead oak, and it had been dead for several years.  Looking lower, some bark was peeling off - but it stood strong and tall and I didn't see any rot.  A perfect firewood tree of the best type of hard wood, and most likely already seasoned and ready to burn!  I had walked that walk dozens of times, looking for firewood, praying for firewood, being thankful for firewood and had totally, completely missed this huge tree.

I had not lifted my eyes high enough to see it.

Ever since, I've been thinking.

This hundred-year-old tree has been a happy surprise providing enough good hardwood to stretch this season and start next year's wood pile.  It is an encouragement to me of the Lord as Provider–that He can be trusted to know of our needs and provide for them at just the right time and to reveal it to us when we will be most blessed by it. I'm reminded that He is my Abba Father and I am his child and I can rest in Him. I'm reminded that I'm more precious than a sparrow and the lilies of the field and I do not need to be anxious about my needs.  I think of Peter and the temple tax and Jesus directing him to go and take the first fish out of the sea and take the coin out of the fish's mouth for the payment of the tax. This is not some slight-of-hand magic trick like an old uncle pulling a coin out from behind an ear.  The fish had a real life, which included the mysterious acquisition of a coin, which in turn, eventually, in God's perfect timing, became the provision for Peter and Jesus.  Likewise our old tree had a life of its own, day after day for a hundred years, serving many purposes before finally providing wood for us.  God's designs are intricate and are fulfilled in the fullness of time, His sovereignty infinite and perfect.

Before we call, He is answering.   He is answering before I have eyes to see it.

I'm reminded that my prayers are often small and hesitating, and even then I look for small answers.  But with a new appreciation for big trees hiding in plain sight, and with encouragement from AndrĂ©e Seu, I am now feeling urges to make outlandish requests.

O Lord, give me new eyes to see!


Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking, I will hear. ~Isaiah 65:24
He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” ~ Matthew 17:20
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." ~ John 14:12-13 
"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." ~ Matthew 10:29-31 
When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” ~Matthew 17:24-27
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."~Matthew 6:25-33

*It's possible that I got the idea about the coin in the fish's mouth not being a slight-of-hand trick from a John Piper sermon...I have just the vaguest memory of him describing the life of that fish... 

Saturday, March 6, 2010

When chores aren't a chore.

We started heating our home with wood three years ago and I have a secret.

Firewood chores are my favorite chores.

I'm sure a big part of that is because they aren't actually chores I have to do. They aren't anywhere on the rotating list I hold in my brain of all the things that I consider myself responsible for. Depending on the weather or my mood I can walk outside (and away from my less favorite things like cleaning closets or digging Legos out of the couch) and over to wherever they are working–cutting and hauling, splitting and stacking.  My arrival is always met with smiles and appreciation that I would come out and help. And I do help with whatever they are doing, admire my husband's masterful handling of the chainsaw, direct the older kids who are helping in the best way to balance a load or steer the sled, play with the younger boys who are mostly there just for fun, and sit for a while and just look at the scenery. They are just impressed with me being there. Wow! A mom who hauls wood! I lend a hand for as long as it's fun, and then head back indoors under the guise of making cookies, coffee and hot chocolate whenever I want.

The daily chores of bringing in firewood to stack a day or two's worth in the mudroom, and armloads to stack by the fireplace are always done by the kids now.  And the best part is that we have discovered that I have an unlikely talent for building and keeping the fires going.   That means I get to do the part of heating with wood that everyone at our house actually wants to do.  Tend the fire.  Kevin has started calling me Firegirl, which makes me smile, and I'm not going to complain about that in our 21st year of marriage.

But, I was thinking recently there must be something more that makes me love heating with wood despite the constant mess-trail of the wood coming right into the heart of our house to the high-efficiency fireplace in our living room, the extra dust everywhere and all of the attention the fire needs to keep it burning 24-hours-a-day for six months or more each year. Yes, it's cozy and my favorite spot to sit is right next to the fire. Yes, the light is just right and makes everything look better in its golden glow. Yes, it's great the kids have meaningful work among their daily responsibilities. They feel big and strong knowing they are really helping out. Those things are nice, but what I realized is that every time I pick up a piece of wood to put it in the fire I am thankful. Thankful that we can heat our home for free with wood that Mr. Friend generously allows us to take from his land.   Thankful that we have been able to keep on top of our need to find, cut, move, split and store enough dry wood for the winter. Living where nighttime temperatures are often 80 degrees colder outside than inside, I'm thankful for the provision of the warmth itself. Because we have a stack of wood sitting there, I'm mindful of how much wood we are using and naturally want to conserve it by loading and tending the fire as best as I can. Since by my own choice I most often am the one who loads the fireplace, it is as if the Lord's provision for our family is literally passing through my hand in a way that is obvious to me. Every time I pick up a piece of wood, my heart recognizes it as a gift and says . . . Thanks.

So, I was wondering why I don't feel that same way about the other things that I hold in my hand every day.  Does my heart well up with thanksgiving for all the work of my hands?  The laundry that I wash and dry and fold that comfortably and warmly clothes our children better than royalty in other times and places?  The abundant, convenient and varied food that I prepare for our large and never-truly-hungry family?  The beds that I make where comfortable toddlers sleep under thick and soft blankets?  The hot water during baths?  Books to put back on shelves and pieces of art to be dusted? How about harder things like dirt tracked in from fields where the kids can play in childhood freedom? The paper scraps and sparkles all over the floor after the kids make beautiful Christmas ornaments? Maybe even those Legos that can be found in every nook and cranny, dropped by little engineers?

As a mother, all these things pass through my hands each day – great provision for all of our needs – and often my heart completely misses it.

Yes, I need help with this.

O Lord, give me new eyes to see the blessings in my life, and a heart that recognizes each gift that passes through my hands, so that my work is transformed by thanksgiving.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

A wildly exciting event.

I know lots of people think we lead a wildly exciting life . . . and I just thought I'd take the time to share some of our excitement today.  This event is so exciting that it has captured the attention of three little boys for a couple of hours (and the occasional attention of the rest of us for the same amount of time).  Good thing we have 4 windows with good vantage points from that side of the house.

OK, get ready...and no, this is not about the chickens coming outside into the sunshine again–although their presence in the yard did add to the overall atmosphere of excitement when the following exciting event occurred.

The big brown UPS truck broke down in our driveway!

Yep, he pulled in, setting off wild warning barks from our helpful watchdog Tipper, which is exciting enough.  Small feet pounded to see who was coming to the door.  Mr. Brown delivered our very small package, which turned out NOT to be the anticipated birthday box for Lydia, but only vitamins for Dad.  Then Mr. Brown returned to his truck, gave the little boys a wave and hopped into the truck while they all watched and . . . nothing happened.   The boys watched as nothing continued to happen.  A totally dead truck!  The cheerful man got out and looked under the huge hood, but apparently could see nothing more in there than I could.  He made a phone call.  From the windows, this generated a lot of excitement and some speculation about whether Mom would have to go outside and help the man fix the truck, or perhaps give him a jump-start.  I found this idea quite amusing.  I convinced the boys to just keep watching.

It got more exciting as a second big brown UPS truck had to come and pick up the packages so that all those people checking on-line for their delivery times would not be disappointed.   Even more exciting, a supervisor so important that only part of his outfit was brown came to look under the hood personally - and then Mr. Supervisor Brown came to the door to reassure us that a tow-truck was on the way.  Oh my.  A tow truck big enough to move the big brown UPS truck.   We couldn't wait.  Well, it turns out we DID have to wait, but it was worth it because a gigantic bright red tow-truck finally arrived and did tow that big brown truck right out of the driveway.

Oh, we love Brown.  Bye-Bye Brown!

Whew!  It's a good thing we all slept through the propane delivery this morning or I don't think we could have stood it.


(Promo pic for UPS)
Treasure from the Junk Drawer
copyright © Sara Shull
•All text and poetry by Sara
•Art illustrations by Sara
•Photos by Sara or the Shull kids
~~~~All rights reserved~~~~

Bible verses:
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV)